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Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  3,322 Ratings  ·  338 Reviews
Bizarre illnesses and plagues that kill people in the most unspeakable ways. Obsessive and inspired efforts by scientists to solve mysteries and save lives. From The Hot Zone to The Demon in the Freezer and beyond, Richard Preston’s bestselling works have mesmerized readers everywhere by showing them strange worlds of nature they never dreamed of.

Panic in Level 4 is a gran
Audio, Unabridged, 0 pages
Published May 27th 2008 by Random House Audio (first published January 1st 2008)
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Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Probably should have read the synopsis a bit better.

Going into this based off of the titles, I thought it would be interesting to learn about Level 4, the place where the most dangerous viruses are quarantined where they can be studied in an attempt to learn more about them and possibly develop a cure.

The introduction begins with the author and his journey into Level 4, a place where very few people go, much less ones that aren't directly working with the viruses in question. The introduction en
In introducing this collection of essays, Richard Preston reflects on the nature and constraints of writing narrative non-fiction. Basically, Preston is using Panic as an opportunity to add to or modify his pieces (many of which originally appeared as articles in The New Yorker) and give the reader a fuller sense of things that, for whatever reason, were left unsaid at the time. The first example of this (to which the title refers) being his potential exposure to a Level 4 hazardous disease, p ...more
Mar 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: germ-books, science
I was a bit disappointed when I received this book and realized that it was a collection of six separate stories, and not all of them were about scary germs. My disappointment, however, was short-lived. Richard Preston has expanded and updated pieces he has written for The New Yorker about different, yet somewhat related, topics in science.

Preston's "Introduction: Adventures in Nonfiction Writing" gives interesting insights into the process of writing, while illustrating such research experience
Elizabeth A
Jul 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, 2015, non-fiction
I'm a fan of science writing, and with a sub-title like this one, how could I resist? I listened to the audiobook, which was well narrated by James Lurie.

The first thing to know about this collection of essays it that they were all previously published in The New Yorker, and in creating this book the author added to those original essays. And that is the biggest complaint I have about this collection - it needs tighter editing. I've no doubt that I'd have given the original essays a five star ra
Mar 02, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Some interesting reading here, but doesn't read like a suspense thriller like Preston's Hot Zone and other works. Found myself mired in too much detail at times... even bored at times. In addition, some of it is very sad when he talks about hemlock trees going extinct and people who are driven to cannibalize themselves. But I'm not sorry I read the book.
Not quite what I expected when I picked up this non-fiction audiobook from the library, but it was still an interesting read. I guess by the title I was expecting hysteria, but it felt more like random stories threaded together loosely by a journalist. Subjects covered in the book include:

1. How to take notes inside a Level 4 Containment Area when you can’t write on paper (No panic! The story of a malfunctioning zipper). Listening to this section of the audiobook reminded me of scenes from the m
Sep 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2011
Panic in Level 4 is a collection of expanded and updated articles author Richard Preston wrote for The New Yorker on a seriously diverse group of topics that end up being interrelated if you look hard enough. The author has long been a favorite of mine, and is one of the best around at making difficult scientific topics accessible to ordinary people, without dumbing it down and taking all the scholarship out of it. His books read like thrillers, but at the end you realize you've really learned s ...more
This book contains a collection of essays originally published in The New Yorker. It made for an interesting read but at times it become repetitive as a few of the essays were on related things and so necessitated the same basic background information which I'm sure was useful when they were originally published over several issues but became merely annoying when read in quick succession.

The introduction is an essay itself, and the only one to take place inside USAMRIID's Level 4. It reminded m
Jan 05, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
Fine. I really enjoyed the chapter on the brother mathematicians looking at pi. I don't know if it was the voice of the narrator on the audiobook or the intention of the author, but sometimes I heard it as "pie." Mountains of pie. Filled with pie. I liked that. The idea of pi is so interesting and so absorbing: what DOES it mean? Can we humans know? What if they're right and even the most powerful computer, comprised of nearly the entire known universe, couldn't get enough numbers or calculation ...more
Jun 24, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I hadn't read any of the shorter versions of these stories in the New Yorker, so these were all completely new to me. I enjoyed this book immensely. Preston writes with ease and threads his personal touch through the scientific details about which he writes, ultimately setting a tone of a certain intimacy that usual scientific discussions tend to avoid. He writes these stories as though he were writing a biography, not as a science minded person bent on scientific instruction and tedious detail. ...more
Sep 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, essays
A very interesting hodgepodge of scientific essays (written entirely for the layman) covering a range of mostly unrelated topics. Preston excels at putting a personal face on each aspect of scientific inquiry by devoting the greater part of each narrative to the people involved (whether directly or indirectly) with pushing science forward. In other words, this book is not simply a cold regurgitation of facts the author picked up throughout his research. Preston writes from personal experience wh ...more
Bryce Holt
Jul 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those rare books where the subject matter truly stretched the boundaries of my mind. It takes you places you can't imagine...the very fringes of science, math and the human experience. The best parts of this were an eye-opening article on Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome, the hunt for the genesis of Ebola and the photographic mapping of the Unicorn Tapestries via mathematics. There are a few places where you simply have to be patient and get through the quagmire of facts and raw data (especia ...more
This book confused me a bit. I picked ti up because of the title and that it was Richard Preston (Hot Zone, Demon in the Freezer, Cobra Event). It looked like another cool book about hot viruses. And part of it was. The other parts didnt seem to fit: men building a supercomputer to compute pi in their apt., A pest that is killing the Eastern Hemlock trees, then there was a story about an ebola outbreak. Also a story about the human genome project and a horrifying story about a disease that cause ...more
Cecily Kyle
Sep 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wobble, favorites

I wish this book was longer, there were so many interesting tidbits in this novel and I am really happy that I read it. Intense and scary at times, and sometimes the things talked about don't really seem relatable as a whole but Richard Preston brings it back in to relate somewhere else in the story. I want to read more on this kind of stuff it is really interests me and I really didn't realize how much until now. There are so many things in this world that kill us and this really opens the
This is very dry in some areas but it's actually very interesting. There was a lot of stuff brought to my attention. I had no idea about the gorillas, it makes me sad to think things are getting spread like that and we have no idea why. I found the information about pi kind of interesting but it dragged on way too long. He could have cut a lot of that out. The viruses is very scary. The genes that causes self cannibalism, wow. Orphan genes and syndromes is right. Overall I liked the book, it's j ...more
I was expecting a compilation of interactions with Level 4 viruses - much like The Hot Zone: what I got was a series of short stories covering everything from Ebola to the Unicorn tapestries at Cloisters. It was an eclectic and interesting collection of stories about the human genome project, the death of a species of trees, the lives of mathematicians, Ebola, the unicorn tapestries, and self-cannibalization - a collection I feel added to my general knowledge:) 3*
Simon Cleveland
‘The Hot Zone' was an exceptional book and so 'Panic in Level 4' sounded very promising at first. The book is a collection of writings Mr. Preston did over a period of a few years. Only a couple of them refer to the terrible viral outbreaks, such as the African Ebola. I wasn't to fond of reading about the self-cannibalization disorder, it seemed to depressing. I recommend 'Demon In The Freezer', much more engaging read.
Mar 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best medicine gore writer out there. Worth coming out of the library for the article on Lesch-Nyman alone. Preston was such a master that it made me go back and give Gil Reavill one less star for being such a poseur, like how you feel gross about liking NIN once you hear Einsturzende Neubauten.
Dad's a medical epidemiologist - I remember riding in the back of the Land Cruiser in Cameroun, leafing through his tropical medicine books, looking at the horrible pictures of people with elephantitis, leprosy, etc. I'm sure that this is where my fascination with medical mysteries started....
Jun 10, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was good but some of it ran on and became somewhat boring
Apr 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks-read
I think I will read anything new that he writes. Enjoyable Non-Fiction .
Feb 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-audio, quest, uno2016
I liked it much more than the other Preston I just finished.
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: soft
the title's kinda misleading, though i should say the stories are welcome deviation from the usual bio-terror richard 'dickhead' usually dish out

p7: the virus was first was noticed in 1976, when it surfaced in yambuku, zaire (now the democratic republic of congo), near the ebola river, where it sacked a catholic mission hospital, killing most of the medical staff along with a number of patients and people the patients had came into contact with.

p176: a woman named tracye overby came along as mur
Hazel Rainfall
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was genially surprised by the contents of this book due to the varied nature of topics covered. Richard Preston discussed different topics in each chapter and not all of them were about diseases that attack on the cellular level (like Ebola or Smallpox). I found Panic in level 4 quite fascinating, due to all the detailed information presented in a way that is easy to understand. The forward was actually one of the more interesting portions to read. I loved getting to know a little bit more abo ...more
Jun 23, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Read the first chapter about ebola and kept thinking, "This sure is a long introduction to a book." The dramatic fictional book based on real science about an outbreak starting in Level 4 never occurred though. That's not what this book is actually about. Turns out this is just about the author's much less dramatic conversations with people that are doing some science that is fairly well under control. Yawn.
As Preston's books usually are, this book is not for the fainthearted. Read at your own risk.
I'm not sure the title is so appropriate though; as only 2 of the stories are actually about panic-inducing virus infections. Self-cannibals was by far the worst of the stories. And by that I mean, the most horrific. The rest of the stories are more true to the last part of the subtitle: Other Journeys to the Edge of Science.
Sivaram Velauthapillai
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
This is my first Richard Preston book and I have to say it is one of the best essay collections I have encountered in my life! This collection of New Yorker essays (expanded/updated in the book) span diverse topics and the writing ranges from very good to utterly amazing. I found all the articles insightful and learned a lot. Even some topics that I thought I wouldn't like--such as the one on trees and the horrific self-cannibalism Lesch-Nyhan disease--were surprising in the amount to research a ...more
Jun 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most of us have heard of Ebola, but few have the painfully vivid visuals and physiological response as those who've read this work by Richard Preston. The cases of Lesch-Nyhan syndrome he presents are intriguing and lead me to consider gradations of its symptoms in some psychopathology and to ponder a possible relationship between them.
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was good but it should have been titled something more along the lines of genetics and technology. It wasn't quite what I expected, it's a lot more mathematical than I had expected. The first chapter is about pi. Over all it was written well and had great stories that ended up all somehow tying together.
Jim Garrett
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As with his other books, Richard Preston demonstrates an excellent ability to build a story around the sharing of information. My favorite section was about Lesch-Nyhan syndrome. This was new to and has raised an interest that will lead to further research on the topic.
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Richard Preston is a journalist and nonfiction writer.

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